Christmas Sablés Cookies Recipe

Christmas Cookies

[Biscuits de Noël]

Laurence is one of my best and oldest friends. I met her when I was fourteen, on our first day of high school, and soon we were inseparable, so alike in so many ways that people sometimes mistook us for sisters.

I loved going to her house after school. For one thing, there was a television there, which wasn’t the case at my parents’ — much to my and my sister’s grief — so there was always the electrifying prospect of maybe catching one of those shows everyone else was watching at the time.

But aside from that, the house felt like a big happy place: Laurence had two (actual) sisters, and her mother, Christine, took care of small children at home, so there were a lot of comings and goings, conversations, people at the door, and girls shouting things down the stairwell.

Laurence and I would first drop by the bright kitchen and raid the cabinets to make ourselves a snack — the essential goûter — then we would dash up the two flights of stairs and shut the door of her room behind us so we could talk and talk and talk, the way fourteen-year-olds do.

There was often bread and nutella in that kitchen, or sometimes a yogurt cake, and also very good homemade vanilla yogurts made with whole milk in the fridge. And I remember that every year, around Christmastime, there was a tin of biscuits de Noël that Christine had baked.

Thin, crisp, and delicately buttery with just a whisper of cinnamon, these were simple cookies, deceptively plain in appearance, but they made you close your eyes and listen to the tiny choir bursting into an aria inside your mouth.

A decade later, it finally dawned on me that I should just ask Christine for her recipe, which she kindly agreed to share. She noted that she made them just once a year, in the days leading up to Christmas, and I follow her lead, even though they’re such fantastic little sablés I would gladly inhale them year-round.

It is an easy recipe, which I’ve altered only marginally, lowering the sugar a little, adding salt, and replacing the tablespoon of rum with a tablespoon of my vanilla extract. The dough needs to rest overnight for the flavors to develop, and then it’s a simple matter of rolling it out thinly, cutting shapes, and baking batch after batch, while pretending to be in a movie about a small-scale cookie factory.

This year’s production is undoubtedly the tastiest I’ve ever baked: I made it with the flour they sell at the Poilâne bakery, the very same stone-ground flour they use for their bread, yes, but also their legendary punition cookies. As a result, my biscuits de Noël bear a strong flavor resemblance to them, which is exactly as I’d hoped.

Naturally, you could choose to ice the cookies if that’s your thing, but I am not a decorated cookie kind of girl, in case you hadn’t noticed, and I love the quiet look of these. And I think they make a lovely giftable treat as is, stacked in even little piles in a box lined with tissue paper.

And for more edible gift ideas, check these recipes:
~ Chestnut pecan biscotti,
~ Homemade granola,
~ Very ginger cookies,
~ Chocolate clusters,
~ Homemade vanilla extract,
~ Matcha shortbread cookies,
~ Chocolate-dipped hazelnut marbles,
~ Homemade tisane mix,
~ Rose or chocolate marshmallows.

Happy Holidays!

Biscuits de Noël

– 420 grams (14 3/4 oz, about 3 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (I used Poilâne T80 flour)
– 280 grams (9 3/4 oz, 1 cup + 6 tbsp) sugar (I use unrefined blond cane sugar)
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (I use unrefined grey salt)
– 2 large eggs
– 1 tablespoon homemade vanilla extract
– 250 grams (8 3/4 oz, 1 cup + 2 tbsp) best-quality unsweetened butter, diced and softened (I leave it out for about 2 hours at room temperature)

Makes about twelve dozen*

Prepare the dough at least 8 hours in advance, and up to a day. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the eggs and the vanilla, and mix until combined.

Add the butter, a small lump at a time, and mix until incorporated before adding the next. The dough will be soft; it will firm up in the fridge. (If you want to make the dough by hand, I recommend you imitate Lionel Poilâne in this video, as he demonstrates how he makes punitions.)

Divide the dough in four equal(ish) pieces, shape each of them into a thick disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and up to a day.

Line cookie sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. (For optimal productivity, work with three cookie sheets, so at any given time you can have one in the oven, one that you’re working on, and one that’s cooling.)

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).

Remove one disk of dough from the fridge. On a generously floured work surface (ideally, marble, so the dough remains cold for as long as possible) and with a generously floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a little under 3mm (1/8″) in thickness. To prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface, the trick is to rotate it by a quarter of a turn between each pass of the rolling pin, and throw a little more flour underneath as soon as it seems like it wants to stick.

Cut out the shapes of your choice using a cookie cutter, and arrange them on a cool cookie sheet. The cookies won’t really expand while baking, so it’s okay to crowd them a little (within reason). Gather the scraps into a ball, handling it minimally to prevent overheating, and re-roll it as needed to cut out more shapes. If you find it is becoming too soft, place it back in the fridge to firm up again.

Insert the cookie sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until pale golden. The cookies will still feel a little soft, though you should be able to lift one on the blade of a knife. If the cookie cutter shape you’ve used has weak points (such as the neck in the case of my little guys), let the cookies rest for 1 or 2 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a rack to cool.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, making sure you let each cookie sheet cool completely before reusing it for another batch.

The cookies will keep for up to a month in an airtight container at room temperature.

* Naturally, the yield depends on the size of your cookie cutter: I used one that’s 7 cm (2 3/4″) in height, and got twelve dozen, for a total cookie weight of 960 grams (2 pounds 2 ounces).

Cooking/baking time: 12 min

  • http://www.gamereviewwiki.com/bikinibirthday Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday

    Mmm… sables are all about the butter are they not?
    So delicious, so rich, so perfectly decadent for Christmas!
    I love Butter Cookies

  • http://www.citylifeeats.com Valerie @ City|Life|Eats

    What lovely-sounding cookies. I can relate to the no-TV thing. My parents had a TV, but access to the TV was very limited.

  • http://wildnotwise.blogspot.com Jenn

    I actually made the recipe you posted for Sables with coarse sugar applied to the outside of the roll before slicing and baking, only I used green decorator sugar to roll them and I think they looked very festive. And everyone at work loved them!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Glad to hear it, Jenn!

  • http://MyKugelhopf.ch Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf

    eh voilà, the biscuits de noël we heard about on twitter, that had me imagining delicious aromas of butter and cinnamon here in zürich ! =) thank you (and christine !) for sharing the recipe. happy holidays !!

  • http://www.gastrogeek.co.uk gastrogeek

    What a gorgeous post – you’ve just reminded me of my misspent youth raiding her parents fridge (her father was the head of PR for M&S so it was always a generously stocked one ;) – will definitely be trying these out!

  • http://three-cookies.blogspot.com/ Three-Cookies

    The cookies look really tasty, and thanks for the wonderful story. I suppose the history behind the cookies makes the cookies even more special for you. I can’t wait to try this.

  • http://www.storiesfromemona.com Maya @ Stories from Emona

    These cookies look very lovely, thank you for sharing! I, too, prefer them non-decorated.
    Happy holidays to you, Clotilde!

  • http://www.seattlepastrygirl.blogspot.com Sandy

    Oh these look lovely.I’m so jealous you can use Poilane flour. I became addicted to the Punitions back in 2006 and love to make them often. Thank you for sharing the video too.

  • http://swans-place.blogspot.com/ swan

    Merci Clotilde, I just got up and decided today will be my baking-day!
    Merry Christmas!

  • http://food-hound.blogspot.com The Food Hound

    I love the poilane cookies!! I can’t wait to try these! As we speak, I have poppyseed bread in the oven to drop off at my neighbors’ houses as a little Christmas present :) Kind of an old-fashioned recipe, but I haven’t made it in ages!

  • http://www.jessicasdinnerparty.com Jessica

    Sometimes simple is so much better! I had no idea Poilane sold flour. Revelation!

  • Clarkie

    These look fab – can’t wait to try this recipe. The gingerbread man shape looks perfect – which cutter did you use?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks, Clarkie, but I’m not sure what you’re asking — I used a cutter shaped like a little gingerbread man.

  • http://bakingcolours.blogspot.com Luciana Lazarte

    Buenisimos!. Really good!, I think I´m gonna do them at home. Clotilde, I love your blog!, it inspired me to write about what I like the most, cooking. I´m gonna be honored if you visit me at my blog.

    Thanks!!

  • Rachel

    Lovely story and lovely-looking cookies! I’ve already done my Christmas baking for the year (your matcha shortbreads, in fact) but I’ll save this for next year. You’ve also inspired me to try my luck asking to buy flour from my extremely good local bakery. They don’t appear to sell it as Poilane does, but nothing ventured, nothing gained…

  • http://swans-place.blogspot.com/ swan

    They are very, very yummy!

  • cornflower

    Hi, Clotilde, these look yummy! I think Clarkie’s question was wondering about the specifics of the cutter, because it’s an unusually-nicely shaped little person–do you remember where you bought it or who manufactured it?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks, Cornflower! I don’t remember where I bought it exactly, but it is manufactured by Foose, and I was able to find it on their website: it’s the gingerbread boy (3-inch) shape. Happy holidays!

  • http://www.thedelectablediary.blogspot.com Hayley Harland

    My mother-in-law is French and she makes ones exactly like these. At Christmas time there are always some tiny ones in the biscuit tin to give to guests with a warm cup of tea. Nothing more welcoming. Happy Christmas

  • http://croquecamille.wordpress.com Camille

    I had no idea Poilâne sold their flour. Time to get myself over to the Left Bank!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      It’s not cheap (a little under 4€ for 1 kg) so it couldn’t be your everyday baking flour, but for this kind of recipe, the flavor bonus is absolutely worth it.

  • http://www.fedulab.blogspot.com Fede

    I love this recipe
    and also all your blog

    I need to twitt this ^_^
    @fedulab

  • Joan

    “the tiny choir bursting into an aria inside your mouth”…aria biscuits :-) They look so sweet!

  • http://zoozsfood.blogspot.com/ Sue

    I have to say a big thank you for the Gallente de Rois recipe. It wasn’t just that it was delicious it was also light. My partner declared it the best he had ever had. Sue

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I am delighted, Sue, thanks for reporting back!

  • http://www.bakingwithfrench.blogspot.com Brittany

    They definitely look so delicate and light. I love simple treats that still suit the Christmas occassion! Looking forward to seeing more of your posts in 2011.

  • http://www.blogspot.southoffrancehotel.com/ David Coles

    Dear Clotilde,

    Such a nice recipe, they remind me so much of the little biscuits that i used to make with my mother when we prepared for big family Christmases. i hope you don’t mind if i post them on my blog too? Maybe i could even do a guest posting of one of my favourite recipes on your blog!!; i’d love that.

    Best wishes

    David

  • sueal

    love buttery cookies anytime these sound super delicious – thank you

  • http://thecitycradle.com Victoria

    Love those cookies and tied with pink they seem to fit right in with the Valentines preparations this month!

  • Frauke

    I made your biscuits today and the flavour is, as you promised, astounding! What I had difficulties with was mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ones BEFORE adding the butter. The texture of the biscuits became somewhat grainy. Is it meant to be like that, or can I do it the other way round (first butter and sugar, then eggs, then flour…)? Or is there any other trick I can use? I would be glad if you could help! Thanks,

    Frauke

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      It’s fine if the texture gets grainy at this point, it should get back to normal when you add the softened butter. The order in which you add the ingredients has consequences on the final texture, so I recommend following my friend’s mother’s recipe as is to get the same results. But of course, if you prefer to first cream together the butter and sugar, your cookies will be fine — just different.

  • Frauke

    Hi Clotilde!

    I tried the biscuits again your way, with ordinary flour, and it worked out beautifully! However, to make good things even better and since we don’t have Poilane’s in Germany, the next time I used roasted flour instead, which had three effects: One, the dough became smooth more easily, two, the taste was out of this world, and three, the texture was still crisp but more tender.
    Thanks, thanks, thanks for everything! I love your blog! Have a happy Christmas time,

    Frauke

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Using roasted flour is a great idea, Frauke, I’ll try that next time! (For those wondering about roasted flour, here’s the post I wrote on the subject.)

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